October 14, 2022 • De Pree Journal
I am an exceptionally gifted loser. I lose everything—my keys, my phone, that sticky note I wrote on five minutes ago. I have an app on my iPad to help me find my iPhone and an app on my iPhone to help me find my keys. My friend encouraged me to get an Apple watch so that it could join me in the hunt, but I’m sure I would lose it too.
I get quite frustrated when I lose something I can’t locate with an app—like my headphones or my sneakers. But what’s really difficult is losing things that are more intangible. When I moved to Chicago, I lost my sense of direction because I had somehow convinced myself that Lake Michigan was to the north of me instead of to the east. I’ve also lost my confidence before a presentation, and I lose my mind about once a week when my kids erupt in a cacophony of, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!”
But I’ve also lost my sense of calling a few times. Has that ever happened to you?
I’ve also lost my sense of calling a few times.
In some seasons, I’ve had a pretty clear idea about how God might want me to use the gifts and resources he has given me. I had a sense of how I could serve others and make a redemptive impact in the world. I had direction and felt energized to do my best work. Other times, my sense of calling has felt like it was buried under six feet of Georgia clay—nearly impossible to unearth.
Why do we lose our sense of calling? I’ve come up with three main reasons.
Our Sense of Calling Gets Zapped
Let’s face it. Sometimes the daily grind can zap our sense of calling. Our days can be long and full with little space for downtime and reflection. We wake up, sprint through our morning routine, go to work, make dinner, maybe help with homework if we’ve got kids, and then practically collapse from exhaustion. Some seasons make it difficult to find the time to recalibrate, to connect deeply with God, to remember our calling.
Some seasons make it difficult to find the time to recalibrate, to connect deeply with God, to remember our calling.
The grind at work can also zap the sense of purpose we bring to our jobs. When we’re feeling overloaded or overworked, it’s easy to forget our why. It can also be tough to remember our calling when we don’t get to see the end product or the impact of our work. For example, when I was a teacher, it was pretty easy for me to maintain my sense of purpose because my purpose sat in my classroom every day trying to learn how to solve equations. But when I’m in more behind-the-scenes roles, remembering the calling I once relied on to energize my work becomes more difficult.
Unhealthy workplaces can also zap our calling. Whether we look at workplace culture through the lens of Quiet Quitting or the Great Resignation, it’s clear that too many of us work in environments that erode instead of enhance our well-being. When you’re working for low pay, reporting to a toxic boss, or clocking more hours than you signed on for, it’s easy to lose sight of why you took the job in the first place.
Our Sense of Calling Becomes Enmeshed
Our sense of calling can get lost when we take on someone else’s calling as our own. The two callings become enmeshed, almost indistinguishable. Here’s how it played out in my work. After several years of working as a consultant, I discovered that I really didn’t have the clear sense of calling I once did. I did quality work and served my clients well, but in doing so, I had to make their passion my passion, their calling my calling. Applying for a grant to help you fund your new seminary program? Bam. I’m its new biggest cheerleader. Evaluating your program to see if it’s been effective relative to your mission? I need to know your mission so well that I feel like it’s my own.
This sort of enmeshment isn’t limited to consulting. I have observed marketplace leaders in other industries describe their sense of calling in such a way that it sounds an awful lot like their organization’s vision and mission. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that sort of alignment can yield all sorts of synergy, as it did in my consulting work. But, if our calling isn’t bigger than any one job, any one organization, then our sense of calling can get a bit lost. It can get tangled up in the organization’s sense of purpose. Or maybe we never had a clear sense of calling to begin with.
If our calling isn’t bigger than any one job, any one organization, then our sense of calling can get a bit lost.
Our Sense of Calling Gets Diminished
Our sense of calling can also get diminished when we compare ourselves to others. This was a frequent occurrence for me in seminary. Tell me about your calling was a favorite conversation starter. I always felt a little sheepish when asked to talk about mine because I never had a profound calling experience like many of my classmates. I also didn’t have a clear sense of what I would do after seminary. I told people that I was in school to prepare for whatever God called me to after. It was certainly true. But it was also a cop-out. My calling often felt small and insignificant—maybe even nonexistent.
I’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy. Well, comparison can also diminish our sense of calling. When we diminish our sense of calling, we begin to question it. We lose our confidence in it. Whatever clarity we once had now becomes obscured and hard to find.
When we diminish our sense of calling, we begin to question it. We lose our confidence in it.
Can You Relate?
Can you relate to any of those reasons for losing your sense of calling? Has your calling been zapped, enmeshed, or diminished over the course of your life? I don’t know about you, but when I’ve lost my sense of calling, I feel restless and uneasy. I’m like a ship without a ballast, a sailor without a compass. I need help staying steady, upright, and on course. So, what can we do to recover our sense of calling? In my next article, I’ll share what I’ve discovered about how our calling can go from lost to found.
Dr. Meryl Herr is the Director of Research and Resources at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership where she designs and conducts research studies that add to the understanding of what helps marketplace leaders flourish. She also oversees the conversion of research findings into resources to support individuals in all seasons of life and leadership.
Click here to view Meryl’s profile.